Sometimes the days leading up to a program or event feel like a frantic race to the finish line. “Did so-and-so confirm with such-and-such?” “Will what’s-his-name remember whatchamacallit?!” “Oh, what if this or what if that?!?” The pace is so hectic the one in charge just hopes nothing crashes and burns before the whole thing is over!
It does not have to be this way. With some intentionality and purposeful planning, a program manager can actually slow down and enjoy the ride while designing and implementing a more meaningful event for all involved.
Get Ready . . .
Instead of rushing full speed ahead into a new idea, take the time to pause long enough to consider the bigger picture and begin with the end in mind.
What is the purpose of this program? What needs are being addressed and how? Does the program being considered fit into the greater mission of the organization of which it’s a part? Develop a clear statement of purpose for a new program before implementation begins.
Clearly define the people needed to ensure the success of a program. Not only does this include the actual participant group to be recruited, but also the planning and support team necessary for implementation. Does the organization have an adequate number of support staff or volunteers to support the development of a new program?
Creating a Preventive Maintenance Calendar is one of the most time-consuming but worthwhile parts of a successful program plan. A PMC is a detailed timeline of program-building steps which includes a deadline and task owner assignment for each. By creating a master to-do list and delegating teammates to assist as appropriate, the workload associated with preparing for a program or event is more easily divided and the pace of the work itself is much more manageable. Collecting PMC information into a spreadsheet with tasks separated by month is helpful both for visualizing, communicating, and revising as needed.
If time allows, there is tremendous benefit in enlisting a trusted group of colleagues to preview new program plans before recruiting actual participants. A carefully selected focus group can help identify areas of improvement and enhance even the most thoroughly thought-out program plan
. . . . Get Set . . .
With realistic plans in place, it’s time now to involve a wider audience in the program preparation.
Regular program planning meetings can be effective, energizing times of collaboration. When all program planning falls to just one individual, the work can be overwhelming and the final product ends up one-dimensional. Consider scheduling monthly or weekly meetings with other team members to review PMC tasks, consider creative solutions to challenges as they occur, and celebrate successes along the way.
Clear communication is key; it really is. Communication related to a program or event involves several different audiences.
- Program Staff
Let staff and volunteers know as early as possible what will be expected of them. Share dates of planning and training meetings well in advance, and send reminders regularly.
- Program Prospects
Marketing an event to a targeted group of people is easier now than ever before. It does, however, require a strategic plan and careful budgetary considerations. Develop a marketing plan early in the planning process, and revisit often to evaluate its effectiveness and make adjustments as needed.
- Program Supporters
In almost every case, an organization has supporters who recognize the value of its work but are either unable or ineligible to participate in all of their events. Don’t neglect communication to this important group! Think of a program’s supporters as fans in the stands, cheering an event on and celebrating its success along with the team. The prayer and even possible financial support of this group can contribute greatly to a program’s success. Whether through a regular newsletter, or a brief pre- or post-event report, keeping supporters informed of an organization’s work results in both long and short-term benefits that are unique, foundational, and invaluable.
- Program Staff
- Congregate and Collect
Gather people, supplies and resources needed to execute a program according to the timing set forth in the PMC. A good guideline to consider: accomplish as much as possible as far in advance as possible and reasonable. Unexpected surprises inevitably occur nearer the actual program date. Minimize the stress of these surprises by accomplishing other tasks ahead of time.
. . . . Go!
With careful planning and steady work already accomplished, the start of a program or event feels much less stressful. There are still a few things to remember:
- Be flexible
You probably know the saying, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” How true it is! The beautiful irony of carefully planning for a program is that having a well-crafted plan makes adapting to unexpected changes easier than if there were no plan at all. By planning well, a program manager is better able to adjust when plans must change. It’s counterintuitive, but absolutely true.
- People over programs
Always, always, always remember that the people involved in a program are exponentially more important than the perfect execution of the details of a program itself. Whether dealing with program staff, participants or vendors, the human beings on the other end of program goals deserve to be treated with love and respect. The goals of valuing people and offering an excellent program are not mutually exclusive. In fact, truly excellent programs find ways to accomplish both.
- Create space for reflection
Regardless of how many times a particular program has run, the planners can always learn from its participants. Be sure to provide a way to collect program evaluations from both program staff and general participants. Listen well to what’s said, learn, and adapt future programs accordingly.
Fuel for the Journey
Plans themselves are worthless without accompanying action, of course. For Christian programs whose goals are related to spiritual growth and development, the most important actions cannot be accomplished by human beings. Those who try to do kingdom work solely in earthly strength run out of gas early and often. The Bible puts it this way:
“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” Psalm 127:1
And how true it is! From beginning to end and at all points in between, wise program and event planners seek God’s guidance through prayer, consideration of scripture, and the counsel of godly friends. The Bible reveals time and again that God alone is the holder of perfect plans.
So fuel up regularly, follow the leader, and enjoy the ride!
“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” Proverbs 16:3